Pooches are trusted to do many things: guide the blind and partially sighted, play fetch and as YouTube would have us believe, drive cars. But fly?
A new British TV show on Sky1 is looking to add to some canine's impressive skill set by teaching them to fly. Yes, “Dogs Might Fly” is putting a man’s best friend behind the controls of an aircraft.
The talent show is giving stray and rescue dogs a chance to turn their lives around by putting them through auditions paneled by a mutt behavior expert, an animal scientist and an animal trainer. The top three hounds will win a place at “flight school” where psychologist Mark Vette, who has already taught a dog to drive, will train them to pilot a single seater plane. Caroline Hawkins, creative director and executive producer at Oxford Scientific Film, explains why the program isn’t as mad as it sounds.
How did you come up with the idea to create the show?
I was in a development meeting and said: “If you can teach a dog to drive a car, maybe you can teach it to do something else, like fly a plane.” And the idea for “Dogs Might Fly” was born. We launched into development by looking into canine cognition and speaking to Mark Vette, the man who taught three dogs to drive a car.
What’s the main point of “Dogs Might Fly”?
The show aims to explore the extraordinary ability of dogs and challenge people’s perceptions of rescue dogs. Some of the dogs in the show were just hours from being put down, and now they are healthy, happy dogs with loving homes. The show combines science and entertainment, with some important messages at the heart. We hope it inspires dog lovers to see their pooches in a new light.
Dogs driving a plane sounds a bit futuristic…
It's a step-by-step process over several months culminating in them operating various types of simulators. Naturally, the dog would be accompanied in the plane by its trainer and an experienced pilot.
How exactly do you prepare them?
Our four experts and four trainers explored communication, empathy, memory and reasoning with the animals in a range of exercises. The dogs had a smashing time putting on musical and theatrical performances. I think we created the first all-dog pop group. Thousands of sausages and plenty of play were imperative to the making of the series.
Dog pilots sound like a recipe for disaster. Is it dangerous?
No, health and safety was fundamental to making this show. We spent many weeks training to ensure the animals are comfortable, safe and happy. We were working with a team of animal welfare specialists, including an animal welfare director, trainers and vets and kennel hands 24 hours a day. The dogs that enjoy and respond to training are slowly acclimatized to different sensations. Any dog that didn’t enjoy the experience wouldn’t have continued, though the dogs had a brilliant time as you will see.
Have you already taught a dog to fly a plane?
Three dogs were selected to go to flight school. This included all kinds of activities including a boat ride down the river to see how the animals responded to movement and training on a flight simulator. In the last episode, we head to the airfield. You’ll have to watch the series to see if a dog successfully flies a plane.
Could dogs replace pilots in the future?
The show was focused on challenging perceptions and exploring the amazing, untapped ability of animals. We’re not sure your next flight to New York will be piloted by a canine, but you never know.